These are Richard Keyt’s pictures taken while he was a member of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron while TYD from Kunsan Air Base, Korea, to Korat Air Base, Thailand in 1972.
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On April 1, 1972, while members of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Kunsan Air Base, Korea, slept, an early morning phone call summoned USAF Colonel Tyler G. Goodman to the 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing command post. After communicating with 5th Air Force headquarters in Japan via the secure “walk-talk” teletype system, Colonel Goodman instituted the squadron’s silent recall procedure, which was designed to reduce the chances that nonessential personnel would know of the recall.
Thus began the April Fool’s day deployment of the 35th TFS to Vietnam and Thailand to participate in the “Southeast Asia War Games” and Operation Linebacker I. Later that day, 14 F-Ds departed Kunsan Air Base for Clark Air Base, Philippines. On April 5, 1972, 35th TFS crews began flying combat missions from Ubon Air Base, Thailand. The following day, other 35th TFS crews began flying combat missions from DaNang Air Base, South Vietnam.
Some of the 35th TFS Guys Pose for a Group Photo in front of the Squadron Building Just Prior to Departing Kunsan AB, Korea, for Southeast Asia.
The 35th TFS soon consolidated the squadron and moved all of its men and F-4Ds to Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, where I joined it. During the summer and fall of 1972 as part of Operation Linebacker I, the 35th TFS conducted strike escort missions into Route Pack VI, the most heavily defended area in the history of aerial warfare. Each strike escort mission consisted of four 35th TFS F-4s flying in “fluid four” formation on the perimeter of the strike force (the F-4s carrying bombs) as the strike force ingressed and egressed the target in Route Pack VI. The strike escorts usually flew the F-4E armed with four AIM-9 Sidewinder heat seeking missiles, 3 or 4 AIM-7 Sparrow radar guided missiles and one six barreled 20MM gatling gun. When a strike escort carried only three Sparrows, it was because a single AIM-7 missile was replaced by an ALQ-119 jamming pod that jammed enemy SA-2 Guideline surface to air missile (“SAM”) radars.
The SA-2 SAM was a 32 foot long flying supersonic telephone pole. The radar guided missile could fly Mach 3.5 (three and one half times the speed of sound) and had a range of 25 miles and a maximum altitude of 60,000 feet. It was a formidable weapon and responsible for the loss of many U.S. aircraft over North Vietnam. The missile had a warhead that weighed 195 kg (130 kg of which is high explosive) and could detonate via proximity (when it got as close as it was going to get), contact and command fusing. At the altitudes F-4s flew over North Vietnam, the missile had a kill radius of approximately 65 meters, but anything within 100-120 meters of the detonation would be severely damaged.
The strike escort F-4s were the second line of defense if enemy MiGs got past the MiG CAP (combat air patrol) F-4s. The job of the strike escorts was to engage and destroy MiGs that threatened the strike force. If the MiGs got too close to the F-4 bombers, the bombers would be forced to jettison their bombs and take evasive action to avoid being shot down.
In the hierarchy of flying, the jet fighter is the pinnacle, but aerial combat is the fighter pilot’s ultimate experience. Tom Wolfe said that fighter pilots “have the right stuff” in his best selling book of the same name. Tom also wrote a short story called “Jousting with Sam and Charlie, the Truest Sport.” It is about a Navy F-4 crew that took off from a US aircraft carrier and got shot down by a surface to air missile (a “SAM”). The crew was rescued from the Gulf of Tonkin by a Navy helicopter and ate dinner that night in the officer’s mess / ward room or whatever the Navy guys called it. I believe the short story is in Wolfe’s book called “Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine.” It was first published in a magazine, but I cannot remember which one.
In 1980 I was working on a masters degree in tax law at New York University School of Law. Tom Wolfe gave a talk to the students about his book “The Right Stuff.” I attended and found it very interesting. Tom spoke about a chapter he wrote for the book, but his editor didn’t let him put in the final version because it didn’t have anything to do with the rest of the book. Wolfe spent a lot of time researching “The Right Stuff” by hanging out with fighter pilots on Air Force and Navy bases. The deleted chapter was all about fighter pilots and what it was like to fly fighters in the US military. Tom said that his research showed that most fighter pilots were white Anglo Saxon protestants who were first born sons.
After Tom finished the speech he came into the audience and talked to people and signed autographs. I approached him from behind and waited for a chance to get his attention. I finally called out “Mr. Wolfe,” but he did not turn around. I then said “I am a white Anglo Saxon protestant first born son who flew F-4s in Vietnam.” That got his attention. Tom turned around and we had a lively discussion for an extended period of time about flying fighters. Tom told me that I should read “Jousting with Sam and Charlie, the Truest Sport.”
A few weeks later, I was wasting time in the library. I grabbed a volume of bound magazines off the shelf and thumbed through it. By chance I came across “Jousting with Sam and Charlie, the Truest Sport.” Excellent story. What are the odds of randomly finding the story? I searched for the story on the net tonight, but only found references to it.
But, I digress. This is about the men of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron who achieved the ultimate fighter pilot dream, to engage and destroy an enemy MiG in aerial combat. The vast majority of military pilots who flew in the Vietnam war were not fighter pilots so they never had a chance to engage a MiG. Most fighter pilots who flew in the Vietnam war never flew into North Vietnam where the MiGs were. Most of the fighter pilots who flew into North Vietnam never engaged a MiG. The fraternity of Vietnam era fighter pilots who actually engaged a MiG in life or death aerial combat is very small and very elite.
Lt. Colonel Ferguson’s F-4D that he flew back to Kunsan AB, Korea, in October 1972 when the 35 TFS RTBd.
Ask Joe Lee Burns or Gary Rettebush Why 8 Air to Air MiG Kills are Listed
Official USAF Records Credit the 35 TFS with 6 MiG Kills
My squadron had a lot of members of the aerial combat fraternity because it was tasked with the strike escort mission in Route Pack VI. The following table lists the members of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron who were credited with MiG kills during the time we were TDY to Korat Air Base, Thailand, in the summer and fall of 1972. When they made their kills, all of the aircrews were flying the F-4E with the internal 20MM six-barrel gatling gun.
- Capt. James Beatty Jr. & Lt. James Sumner
Call sign: Balter 03
MiG-21 with the 20MM cannon
- Major Gary Retterbush & Lt. Daniel Autrey
Call sign: Finch 03
MiG-21 with the 20MM cannon
- Major Gary Retterbush & Capt. Robert Jasperson
Call sign: Lark 01
MiG-21 with the 20MM cannon
Read Gary Retterbush’s article on his MiG kills called “Gary Retterbush 2 – North Vietnamese Air Force 0.”
*Major Lucas was a 34th Tactical Fighter Squadron pilot.
Dan Autrey was my roommate. Dan and Gary Retterbush were awarded the Silver Star for their kill. Dan made a great tape recording of a mission north of Hanoi during which he and Gary Retterbush had a spoofed SAM launched at them while they were attacked by two MiG-21s from low and behind that each fired two Atoll heat seeking missiles at them. Dan told me after the mission what it felt like when he heard Lt. Col. Beckers in Lark 01 call “Lark 3 break left.” Dan looked to his F-4′s seven o’clock position, saw four supersonic missiles coming at him and said “oh shit, left, left, left.” I have the tape and will soon write a story about that close encounter of the frightening kind.
The purpose of this page is to assist in finding old friends and squadron mates. The following people are former members of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron or the 80th Tactical Fighter Squadron based at Kunsan Air Base, Korea, or the 36th Tactical Fighter Squadron based at Osan Air Base, Korea, who were sent TDY to Da Nang Air Base, Vietnam, and/or Korat Royal Air Base, Thailand in 1972, and whose address and contact information are known to Rick Keyt:
- Ed Askins, 35th TFS
- Dan Autrey, 35th TFS
- Chuck Banks, 35th TFS
- Lyle Beckers, 35th TFS
- Joe Boyles, 35th TFS
- Joe Lee Burns, 35th TFS
- Tim “CC” Claiborne, 35th TFS
- Gary Corbett, 35th TFS
- Charlie Cox, 35th TFS
- Dave Eastis, 35th TFS
- Hap Ertlschweiger, 35th TFS
- Chuck Jaglinski, 35th TFS
- Bob Jasperson, 35th TFS
- Rick Keyt, 35th TFS
- Jim “Killer” Killoran, 35th TFS
- George Lippemeier, 80th TFS
- Dave Lowder, 35th TFS
- Doug Malloy, 35th TFS
- Joe Moran, 36th TFS
- Mike Nelson, 35th TFS
- Jack Overstreet, 35th TFS
- Ron Price, 35th TFS
- Jeff O. ‘Pitts’ Pritchard, 35th TFS
- Gary Retterbush, 35th TFS
- Carl Scheidegg, 35th TFS
- Raymond Seymour, 35th TFS
- Biff Strom, 35th TFS
- Charlie Sullivan, 35th TFS
- Jim Sumner, 35th TFS
- Ron Thomas, 35th TFS
- Cliff Young, 35th TFS
- Dennis VanLiere, 36th TFS
- Mickey Wilbur, 35th TFS
If you are a former member of the 35th TFS, 36th TFS or the 80th TFS and want to add your name to the list, or if you want to contact somebody on the list, send an email message to Rick Keyt at firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and contact information. I’ll add you to the list if you are a former member. If you are trying to reach somebody on the list, I will forward your email to the person you seek and that person can decide whether to respond to your inquiry.
80th Tactical Fighter Squadron
The 80th TFS Juvats have the Headhunters Association for former and current members of the squadron. The squadron has regular reunions and is looking for lost Vietnam era Juvats to come to reunions. See the Headhunter’s website.
Kunsan SEA 1972 TDYers MIA
If you know how to reach any of our guys that are MIA (missing in America) or if you know of names that should be added to the list below, drop me a line at email@example.com.
- Jack Caputo
- Larry Culler
- Jay Gaspar
- Lloyd Golden
- Ray “Howie” Howington
- John Huwe
- Bill Kyle
- Phil Lehman
- Bill Mikkelson
- Jeff Musfeldt
- Jim Pinckley
- Sol Ratner
- Carl Scheidegg
- Dan Silvas
- Russ Stone
- Jack Storck
- Larry Taylor
- Ray Vogel
- Don Vogt
- Phil Winkler
Deceased Comrades in Arms
In the fall of 1969, I was a senior at Penn State University enjoying my last year of college and fraternity parties. The U.S. Army was drafting young men to fill its need for soldiers in Vietnam. Because I was a full time student in college, I had a student deferment that had kept me out of the draft for three years. The deferment would terminate on my graduation in June of 1970, and I would then be eligible to be drafted. My draft number was 183, a number selected at random by the U.S. Selective Service System by putting 366 birthdays in a jar and picking them out one by one. My birthday was the 183rd pick, which gave me a draft lottery number of 183.
Each local draft board was given a quota of the number of draftees that were to be selected by the draft board to be inducted into the Army. People who had a draft deferment for reasons such as college or medical problems were not eligible to be drafted. From the pool of eligible potential draftees, the draft boards were obligated to draft starting with people whose draft lottery numbers were started at 1 and then proceed in order to lottery number 365 if necessary. Because my number was in somewhat in the middle of lottery numbers, I was in a gray area. I could not predict if I would be drafted or if my number was high enough to avoid the draft.
I decided to hedge my bet by applying for admission to USAF flight school. If I got drafted and if I got into flight school, I would have the option to join the USAF and fly instead of being drafted into the Army and possibly being sent to Vietnam. If I were drafted, I would have to serve two years in the Army. I could also avoid the draft by volunteering for the Army and get a choice of what my job would be. By volunteering, I could get a “safe” job such as computer programmer or cook, but volunteers had a three year active duty service commitment. The Air Force commitment was three months of Officer Training School, one year of flight school followed by five years of additional active duty.
The application process for becoming an Air Force officer and airplane driver was intense and took many months. I first completed a lengthy application. I passed the first round of cuts and had to take several tests such as an aptitude test, general knowledge and eye-hand coordination. After passing the second round of tests, I was given a very comprehensive flight physical, including an eye exam. A common mis-conception is that you cannot become a military pilot if you do not have 20/20 vision. Only a select few (such as Air Force Academy cadets) know that it is possible to get a waiver of the 20/20 requirement from the Surgeon General of the Air Force. I also had to complete a detailed Department of Defense questionnaire about my entire life, which would be used by the FBI to investigate me to determine if I was eligible to hold a Top Secret security clearance. After passing the FBI background check, the last stage of the process was to be selected by a selection board.
I began the USAF application process in the fall of 1969, but did not get notice of my acceptance until May of 1970, about the same time I got a notice from my draft board to report for a draft physical. When an Army recruiter told me that I had a good chance of being drafted into the Army and being sent to Vietnam, I elected to accept my USAF slot and go to Officer Training School and flight school. I goofed off the summer of 1970 in Westport, Connecticut, were my parents lived. In early September of 1970, I took the oath to protect and defend the constitution of the United States and became an E-4 (for pay purposes) and reported to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, for three months of OTS.
Officer Training School in 1970 was a cross between college and military boot camp. We were assigned to squadrons of new Officer Trainees (“OTs”). Each squadron had an Air Force officer who acted as a low key drill instructor. I got up each day except Sunday at about 5:30 a.m., made my bed in the USAF way, showered, shaved, got dressed and marched to the mess hall for breakfast. We had to march everywhere outside. If we went any where on the OTS campus, one OT had to be the flight leader who gave the marching commands to the other OTs (or sometimes a single OT) who marched in single file or in a column of two.
Breakfast, like all meals, was quick and we could not talk. We only had between 5 – 10 minutes to eat our food so everybody woofed it down. Then it was back to the barracks to study for class. A typical day consisted of mostly class room instruction on military subjects like how to be an officer, the structure of the USAF, and military history. An hour or two each day was devoted to exercising and physical education. We ran a lot, and I’m not big on running long distances. We also played team sports like football, softball and a strange game called “Flickerball,” which was a combination of basketball and football.
I don’t remember OTS as being very difficult, certainly it was nothing like Marine boot camp. I do remember making a lot of good friends and having a lot of good times. We always seemed to find something to laugh about. I distinctly remember getting the feeling that I was getting converted to the Air Force way of thinking. I also remember seeing movies in the big auditorium, which we affectionately called the “master bedroom” because when the lights went out in it, a lot of us nodded off to sleep.
Every Saturday morning at OTS the cadet wing of OTs had a parade and marching competition. The first six weeks I was at OTS, I marched in the parade. The marching skill of each squadron was graded. The quarters of each squadron was also graded. The squadron that scored the highest combined score won the weekly prize. The last six weeks I was at OTS, I was one of the OTs who graded the squadrons’ marching at the parade. The only time I ever marched or participated in a parade was when I was at OTS. I never marched or participated in parades on active duty.
I’ll never forget watching an Air Force made short movie called “There is a Way.” The movie was about men my age and a little older flying combat missions over North Vietnam in F-105 Thunderchief (the “Thud”) fighter bombers out of Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand in 1966. Lt. Karl Richter was featured in the movie because he epitomized the heroic young American warrior of the Vietnam air war. Lt. Richter had survived 100 missions over Route Pack Six, the most dangerous area of all aerial combat of the Vietnam war, and he volunteered to fly another 100 missions.
Lt. Karl Richter was shot down and killed in action on July 28, 1967, after completing his second 100 missions over North Vietnam. There is a statue of Karl Richter at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, on which is inscribed, the following words from the prophet Isaiah: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Here am I. Send me.” Lt. Richter gave his life in the service of his country. Karl Richter’s spirit and sacrifice will live on in the annals of the United States Air Force and American history. The December 1992 issue of Air Force Magazine contains an article about Karl Richter written in its Valor section.
The movie includes footage of a mongrel dog named “Roscoe,” which had a special purpose and place at Korat. Roscoe attended all the early morning briefings given to the aircrews that were to fly into the dangerous Route Pack Six area in North Vietnam. The briefings were held in an auditorium at Fort Apache, the intelligence building on the flight line at Korat.
Roscoe had a reserved seat at the briefings in the front row. Because the Route Pak Six briefings were usually very early in the morning, Roscoe liked to sleep. Sometimes, however, Roscoe woke up. Korat fighter pilots believed that if Roscoe slept through the briefing then nobody would get shot down. If Roscoe woke up during the briefing, the fighter pilots believed that it was a bad sign that somebody was going to be killed or captured that day. For more information about Roscoe, see the histories written by Col. William C. Koch, Jr. USAF (Ret) and several contributors to the Korat AB website.
Roscoe was adopted by all the fighter pilots at Korat. The youngest flying officer was given the additional duty of “Roscoe Control Officer.” His duty was to take care of Roscoe’s needs and transport him around the base and make sure Roscoe was present for the big Route Pak Six mission briefings at Fort Apache.
In the summer of 1972 when I arrived at Korat, Roscoe was still alive and living the life of top dog on base. I saw Roscoe most every day while I was at Korat. He was usually at either the Officers Club or Fort Apache, which was the intelligence building where aircrews planned and briefed combat missions.. One day I was waiting outside the Officers Club for the shuttle bus to take me to the flight line and a pickup truck pulled up and stopped in front of me. A bird Colonel got out of the truck, opened the door and Roscoe jumped out and sauntered into the club.
Sunday night at the Officers Club was “cook your own steak night.” The Club always made sure that Roscoe got a steak Sunday night. I frequently ran into Roscoe while on the shuttle bus. When Roscoe wanted to go someplace, he would wait at the bus stop until the shuttle bus arrived. The drivers all knew Roscoe and stopped to pick him up and let him out.
After graduating from USAF Officer Training School (OTS) at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, I was commissioned as a brown bar Second Lieutenant in December of 1970. I spent a year earning my wings. I finished high enough in my class to pick the F-4 Phantom as the airplane I would fly for the next five years. After a two week romp in the beautiful mountains of Washington state where I attended survival school followed by a couple of weeks at water survival school outside of Miami, Florida, I reported in November of 1971 to Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, for six months of F-4 RTU.
2nd Lt. Richard Keyt is in the back row, 6th guy from the left.
Capt. Buddy Mizel, 1st guy on left in the back row.
Capt. Kenny Boone (Instructor Pilot) kneeling 3rd from the left.
RTU stood for “replacement training unit.” It was called RTU because we were being trained to replace other F-4 guys in Vietnam after they finished their one year tour of duty. Since I was young pup, I had dreamed of flying a jet fighter. When I drove onto Luke AFB for the first time and saw the sleek Phantoms lining the ramp, it was a dream come true. It gave me a chill to see row after row of camouflaged F-4s.
It was a very exciting time. I was 23 years old, single and ready for adventure. I got an apartment at the Oakwood Garden Apartments at 40th Street and Camelback Street in Phoenix, Arizona. Although it was a 45 minute drive one way to the base, my apartment complex was well worth the long commute. I picked Oakwood for several reasons: a lot of Luke F-4 pilots lived there and recommended it, the apartments were far from the base so I could live like a civilian, it was close to the night life, and the amenities were great.
Oakwood at the time was singles only. It was and still is a large apartment complex. It had a beautiful large pool, tennis court and tennis pro, sand volleyball courts, six pool tables in a big recreation center, live bands on Friday nights, an activities director and a lot of young adults. I roomed with two other F-4 students in a two bedroom apartment. We had black lights and liked to play music with the black light on at night and talk and talk and talk.
I was assigned to the 311th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron, which consisted of approximately 10 – 15 F-4 instructor pilots and about 40 students. The course lasted six months and included three primary phases. We generally spent half the day in an academic class and the other half of the day flying. We also squeezed in about twenty 1.5 hour missions in the F-4 simulator.
The classes were just like college, except we weren’t studying political science, English or chemistry. We had text books for each subject and nightly reading assignments. The F-4 instructors taught classes in aircraft general, formation flying, basic fighter maneuvers, aerial combat maneuvering (dog fighting), bombing theory, weapons delivery, nuclear weapons, combat mission planning, electronic warfare and countermeasures, and weapons computer delivery system. From time to time in each course we had tests, including final exams. Anybody who flunked an exam risked losing their wings.
We spent a lot of time learning and studying about the F-4 and its systems. We were issued a large book about an inch thick called a dash one, which is the equivalent of the owners manual for the airplane. It was filled with page after page of information about all the unclassified systems of the Phantom. We studied the dash one religiously and were constantly being quizzed on F-4 trivia. The Phantom is a complex machine with a lot of systems and it demands your full attention.
Before we could fly, we had to learn about the Martin Baker ejection seat and the finer points of surviving emergency air and ground egress. The Martin Baker ejection seat is a rocket propelled ejection seat that had an excellent record of saving lives. It is known as a “zero, zero” seat, which means that it is supposed to safely eject a man when the airplane has zero altitude and zero airspeed. In theory, if a man was strapped into the ejection seat in the F-4 sitting still on the ground and the ejection seat fired, the man and seat would be blown 300 feet in the air, the parachute would open and the man would parachute back to earth safely. The nice thing about flying with an ejection seat is that you can always leave the airplane if you don’t like what is happening. It gives you a false sense of security.
The ejection seat, however, was a very dangerous device that required the utmost care. There were a number of accidents, usually involving maintenance personnel who were working inside the cockpit and accidentally fired the seat. Most seat accidents were fatal. I was very careful to check my ejection seat from top to bottom before getting in the cockpit. The seat had seven safety pins stuck in various parts, all of which had to be removed for the seat to fire. The seven pins were all attached to a long nylon cord. Normally when the airplane was not in use, all seven safety pins were in the seat. Just before a scheduled flight, the crew chief would remove six of the safety pins and put them in the safety pin bag and lay it on the top of the seat.
My first flight in the F-4 was a blast, literally and figuratively. Standard USAF procedure before flying the F-4 was for all the crewmembers in a flight to have a mission briefing two hours before scheduled takeoff. F-4s usually flew in flights of two or four. The briefings lasted an hour during which the flight leader would follow a briefing checklist and discuss the mission from A to Z. He briefed us on the weather, time to start engines, radio procedures, flight check in time, taxi procedures, arming area procedures, type of take off such as single ship or formation, departure procedure, route to the restricted flying area, how to perform the mission such as dive bombing, strafing, intercepts, dog fighting, return to base, ground emergency procedures and emergency air fields.
Most Americans do not realize that the men and women who serve in the U.S. military frequently risk their lives as a day to day part of their jobs. Many military jobs are no more dangerous than the jobs of most other Americans. Some military jobs, however, are inherently dangerous and sometimes can be deadly.
For example, when I was flying the F-4 Phantom supersonic fighter (1971 – 1976) I could not purchase commercial life insurance because my job was too risky. I actually saw three fighters (two F-4s and one T-38) crash in peace time during the five years I flew fighters in the United States Air Force. I knew many people who ejected from crippled fighters. When you throw your body at the ground in a 45 degree dive bomb at 450 knots or engage in mock aerial combat with other airplanes at supersonic speeds, things can happen.
Most of us have heard the term “freedom is not free.” When we hear that phrase, we usually think of U.S. military personnel dying for our country in war, but it also applies in peace time and to accidents that occur in war time.
American military personnel die all too frequently so that the American people can enjoy the fruits of freedom. We should always remember our fallen heroes and the words of President Abraham Lincoln in his letter to Mrs. Lydia Bixby who lost five sons in the Civil War. President Lincoln wrote “I pray that our heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.”
Lt. Phil Clark (father) & Lt. Terry Clark (son)
Phil Clark was a 1968 Annapolis graduate and Navy fighter pilot whose A-7 fighter bomber was shot down over North Vietnam on December 24, 1972. Phil was first declared missing in action and later reclassified to killed in action. When Phil was shot down, he was married and had a very young son, Terry, and a daughter.
A few years after Phil’s death, Phil’s young wife died and his two young children were raised in Phoenix, Arizona, by their grandparents, Phil and Freda Clark. The elder Phil is a retired USAF Colonel and former bomber pilot. Phil and Freda were best friends for years with my parents. My dad is a retired USAF Major.
Terry Clark graduated from Brophy College Preparatory high school in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1986, and the US Naval Academy in 1990, twenty-two years after his father’s graduation from the academy. Terry followed in his father’s footsteps and became a Navy fighter pilot. I remember Terry and his sister visited my office one day for a legal matter shortly after Terry had received his wings of gold.
On February 18, 1996, Lt. Terry Clark was killed in an F-14 training accident off the coast of San Diego. I’ll never forget Colonel Phil Clark, Sr., telling me how difficult it was for he and Freda to go to Arlington National Cemetery twice, once to bury Phil and again to bury Terry. As a father, I cannot begin to imagine the pain and anguish Phil and Freda must have felt to have raised a son and a grandson to go to the Naval Academy, Navy pilot training and then be killed while flying fighters in defense of the United States. The three generations of Clarks are true American heroes of the highest order. They served our country quietly with dignity, honor and pride.
Captain Thomas A. Amos and Captain Mason I. Burnham
Tom Amos (35th Tactical Fighter Squadron) and Mason Burnham (421st Tactical Fighter Squadron) were killed in action during an F-4D combat mission over Laos on April 20, 1972. They were escorting an AC-130 gunship as it struck targets on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The AC-130s (known as “Spectres”) carried a 20mm six barreled gatling gun and a 105mm Howitzer canon. The Spectres were extremely effective at destroying military targets on the trail.
The job of the F-4 was to drop bombs on any troops that fired anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) at the gunship. The F-4 rolled in to attack a gun on the ground. The crew of the AC-130 saw a fireball on the ground and were not able to contact Tom or his backseater on the radio. The term used by the intelligence personnel to describe the incident was “no chutes, no beepers.”
I will never forget hearing those words from time to time when I was attending intelligence briefings before flying combat missions over Vietnam. The phrase meant there was no word on the fate of a downed aircrewman because when the airplane went down, nobody saw any parachutes or heard any beepers from the emergency radios that all aircrewmen carried. When I flew combat missions over South Vietnam, North Vietnam and Laos in 1972, I actually carried two radios on my person plus a third radio in the survival kit contained in the ejection seat. USAF F-4s had an emergency radio in the survival kit that could be set to automatically transmit the emergency beeper sound on UHF frequency 343.0 (the emergency frequency monitored by USAF airplanes) when the ejection seat fired.
Tom was the only member of the 35th TFS (my squadron) from Kunsan, Air Base, Korea, killed in action when the 35th TFS deployed to DaNang Air Base, South Vietnam, and Korat Air Base, Thailand, in 1972.
See Tom Amos on the Virtual Wall.
Captain Tom Ballard and Lt. Ron Goodwin
Tom Ballard and Ron Goodwin were killed flying an F-4 during a nuclear bomb delivery training mission over Korea on February 16, 1973. They were on a typical F-4 training mission. Tom and Ron were tasked to fly a low level route in their F-4D and deliver their first practice simulated nuclear bomb within 1,500 feet of the target plus or minus two minutes of a designated time over the target (TOT). One of the missions of the F-4 was nuclear bombing so F-4 crews frequently practiced the skills necessary to put a nuclear bomb on target within the designated TOT. In Korea, we usually flew a low level route 500 feet above the ground at 420 knots for about 30 minutes before reaching the target on the bombing range.
The F-4 had two ways to deliver a nuke bomb, the lay down method and the low angle drogue delivery (LADD) method. The lay down method is the simplest method. It involves merely flying straight and level over the target and releasing the nuke bomb at the proper time and place. The bomb falls away from the airplane, the nose of the bomb falls off to reveal a spike and the bomb floats to the ground in a parachute.
The LADD delivery method involves flying towards the target and at a predetermined distance the pilot pulls back on the stick and begins a steep climb approximating 45 degrees. At some point in the climb, the F-4′s Weapons Release Computer System releases the bomb. The nuke bomb then continues in an upward trajectory for a while before falling back to earth. The parachute on the bomb opens and the bomb then begins to float toward the ground.
The purpose of the LADD is to cause an air burst, i.e., a bomb that explodes above the ground, as opposed to a bomb that explodes on the ground. The nuke bomb contained a radar altimeter that detonates the bomb at a designated altitude above the ground. An air burst creates substantially more radioactivity than a ground burst of the same magnitude.
Tom and Ron flew a good low level mission to the Kuni bombing range on the west coast of Korea. When they flew over the target at 1,000 feet, their bomb did not release. The most common reason a bomb did not release was because the pilot failed to properly configure all of the switches necessary for the delivery. We called this a “switchology error,” which meant an error caused by improper setting of weapons switches. In the F-4 it was actually possible to select the switches in such a way that pressing the bomb release button caused the 20mm gatling gun on the centerline of the airplane to be released like a bomb. The powers that be were not happy when a pilot accidentally bombed off a gun that cost several hundred thousand dollars.
Tom began a 360 degree turn to make another bombing run so that he could release his bomb within two minutes of the designated TOT. The accident report speculated that while in the turn at low level (500 – 1,000 feet) the F-4 flew into the water. Tom was probably checking the switches in the cockpit trying to figure out why the bomb did not release and was momentarily distracted, which allowed the airplane hit the water. When you fly at high speeds (500 knots is 845 feet per second), there is not much room for error.
Duty, Honor, Country
Each of the above men exemplifies the concepts of Duty, Honor and Country, the foundations on which the U.S. military is built. I believe that the finest speech ever given is General Douglas MacArthur’s “Duty, Honor, Country” speech that he gave without notes to the West Point corps of cadets on May 12, 1962. In honor and remembrance of the six men named above and all of our fallen heroes of the U.S. military, I will close with excerpts from General MacArthur’s famous speech.
“Duty, Honor, Country — those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you want to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying point to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn. . . . I regard [the U.S. soldier] now, as one of the world’s noblest figures; not only as one of the finest military characters, but also as one of the most stainless. His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. In his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give. . . . They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory. Always for them: Duty, Honor, Country. Always their blood, and sweat, and tears, as they saw the way and the light.”